Research summary written by Kenan Starcevic, Master student at the University of Luxembourg.

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Well, let's say that there is a twist:

By carefully deciding to begin this question with the words “So, here I am...”, the reader adjusts the thinking process to the English language, so the upcoming words will probably continue to be “English words” (whatever that means).

By continuing reading, the process stays true for the second part as well, since “... but I was certainly not...” is meant to be in English too. The intriguing part begins with the last two words, which are written in the same manner but mean three totally different things.

Thing 1

Imagine you open a new Word-Document and decide to write something in either American or British English. You open the language center and choose one of those two options. By writing “hier” in this Word-Document, the application will underline it in red colour, and you either must use other words instead or you will delete it, because it simply “does not exist”.

The exact same thing happens in your brain when you begin to read and think in a language. The word “hier” will not exist since it does not exist in this exact alphabetical order in the common English language.

Thing 2

But you know that in any Word-Document, you can choose from many other languages, you do not have to stick to the English language. The same thing, a person speaking many languages, can do too by switching from one to the other. This means that the first “hier” cannot be read in English, but it can be read in German.

The German language has a word, which is written in the same alphabetical order and means “Here”, translated into English. Suddenly, you can trust your reading and thinking process again, because you switched from English to German, and somehow now you understand the meaning of the four-letter-word “hier”.

Thing 3

But what about the second “hier”? This must be a typo!

Well, it is not a typo, because the last “hier” should not be read in English, since it simply “does not exist” and neither should it be read in German, because why should the translated word “here” be written twice, one after the other?

Assuming that the last “hier” is written in French, meaning “yesterday”, then the reading and thinking process changes for a third time. By doing so, you understand the word's meaning yet again differently. In French, the correct alphabetical meaning of the four-letter-word “hier” means something different from in German, but still it has a valuable place in the question: “So here I am, but I certainly was not hier hier?!”

Last Thing

I bet that you sit there and argue that the question does not mean anything and yet you are still baffled that a brain does these language-to-language jumps. A “normal” thing for a person speaking multiple languages, because not only does that person speak those languages, but he/she/they read/s, think/s, and assume/s in those new language roles too.

I guess that was is it for me then..., right? Because there is nothing... left ... to say.


The article is part of the initiative Student Ambassadors of the Multilingual Experience. Our students have prepared some interesting topics for you – just scroll down the project page to the section "News“ – you will find more blog posts to enjoy!).